Water around Sarasota bayfront still closed due to sewage

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Posted: Monday, June 3, 2013 9:42 pm | Updated: 5:54 pm, Mon Sep 16, 2013.

SARASOTA - The water near Island Park in Sarasota was still closed Monday following a sewage spill that sent approximately 300 gallons of raw sewage into Sarasota Bay on Saturday. And now new questions are being raised about the health of the city's sewer system.

Warning signs have been posted since early Sunday morning, as officials say bacteria levels there are still too high for swimmers. They say this spill happened when an underground pipe got clogged with grease, it backed the sewage into a storm drain, which then emptied into the bay.

The leak was fixed pretty quickly, but officials say addressing the bigger problem of the city's aging sewer system is going to take a whole lot longer.

Water tests in the area show unsafe bacteria levels, but officials can't say whether it's a direct result of the spill. "The test does not differentiate between human waste and animal waste, so it's not an absolute guarantee of what the source of the contamination is; but it’s an indicator."

Safe levels are anywhere below 800 bacterial colonies for every 100 milliliters of water. However, utility director Mitt Tidwell says levels there are typically just below that threshold, somewhere around 780 colonies per 100 milliliters.

Part of the blame falls on the area's animal life, the other on a sewer system facing old age. "All municipalities are facing that aging infrastructure, both on the water and the wastewater side."

It's not the first time a spill has happened in the area. Back in 2011, a massive spill dumped around one million gallons of raw sewage into the bay.

"These things are going to happen with the spill unfortunately, but we are dealing with them as they do happen." Sarasota mayor Shannon Snyder says the city has a two-pronged plan for overhauling the sewers, but it won't be fast or cheap. "One is, we're going to get our transmission system, which is the lines in the ground, over the next 20 years from about a ‘C+’ system to an ‘A’ system. We've also decided to go to a cash-based system, which means we don't go into debt for anything else."

The water there was tested again Monday afternoon. We are awaiting the results, which should come in sometime Tuesday.

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